Driving up to the home of Thomas Paul Bennett, even at night, you would definitely think he has made a very nice life for himself. And that the 50-year-old builder is a very unlikely candidate to try to rob a jewelry store.
His contemporary ranch-style home sits on top of a hill, at the end of a long winding driveway. To get to his home, on a small cul-de-sac off Stone Valley Road, you pass other multi-million-dollar Alamo homes—faux Colonials, Cape Cods, Mediterranean villas—some twinkling with Christmas lights in the mist of a cold December night.
Yes, I took a short drive to Bennett’s house last night, after seeing that he owned a construction company, and that, according to the San Francisco Chronicle's Henry K. Lee, he lived in a $2.5 million house with Mt. Diablo Views and flew his own private plane. Of course, something very terrible must have been going on in his life for him, according to Contra Costa Sheriff’s investigators, to arm himself with a gun Thursday night and attempt to hold up a small jewelry store in his hometown.
As you’ve read here and in other news accounts, that attempted heist ended up with Bennett allegedly exchanging gunfire with the owner of Alamo Jewelry Mart in the Alamo Plaza shopping center. The store’s owner, Oscar Herrera, 53, of Hercules, was wounded in the upper torso. Late Friday, Herrera was listed in critical condition. Bennett was also wounded in the shoot-out, but initially refused to come out of the store.
Sheriff’s deputies say they found him, standing in the doorway of the store, holding a gun to his head and threatening suicide. Although wounded in the neck, mouth and wrist, he initially refused to come out and an hour-long standoff ensued with deputies finally talking him into surrendering. As of Friday, he was also in the hospital, and under arrest on suspicion of robbery and attempted murder.
And on Friday night, several Sheriff’s cars were crowded into the cul-de-sac below the home he shared with his wife, daughter and son, and from where he operates his Bennett Construction, according to the San Francisco Chroncile.
A couple, relatives of Bennett, emerged from the house, descended the driveway and got into the car. They said the family was declining comment: “Our family is going through a lot right now.”
I told them I was sorry. Some would say my sympathy is misplaced, that it should be with Oscar Herrera and his family. Well, I’m sorry for both of them and their families. Some would also say I was being intrusive and voyeuristic, driving up to Bennett’s house, maybe hoping to talk to someone, but a reporter’s habits die hard. The Chronicle added that in Bennett’s driveway was a boat and a pickup truck with National Rifle Association and Air Force Academy stickers.
Sheriff’s Captain Dan Terry said Bennett had been dealing with financial problems, but doesn’t know yet whether that was the motive in this incident. Terry also told the Chronicle that Bennett and Herrera had "at least one prior contact with each other" before Thursday's shootout. "It appears there might even be some kind of association here," he said. But again, it’s still not clear whether that association had anything to do with the robbery.
An online advertisement for Bennett Construction says the family-owned company has been in business since 1992. It specializes in window and door installation. “We will handle your project with the utmost care.” The ad also says the owner loves to work in this area and, in his spare time, loves working on his own home. A customer praised the company: “Just that thepeople were very nice, professional, great attention to details. Referred them to anyone, very good.”